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How the gun-boat “Zouave” aided the “Congress.”

Henry Reaney, Acting Master, U. S. N.
The Zouave was a tug-boat built in Albany, N. Y., for service on the Hudson River, of great power and speed for that class of vessel. On her purchase by the Government, she was delivered at Hampton Roads by her original owners to Admiral Goldsborough, at that time in command of the North Atlantic Squadron. The engineers and firemen who brought her from Albany entered the naval service, both the former being appointed acting second-assistant engineers, and the latter first-class firemen. I was ordered to her February 1st, 1862, and took with me from the store-ship William Badger, of which I was executive, ten men, who, with the pilot, H. J. Phillips, [715] who had been previously ordered, comprised the crew. She had for armament a 30-pounder Parrott rifle forward and a 24-pounder howitzer aft. We were ready for service early in February and were assigned to picket duty in the James River, which employed us only from sunset to sunrise. During the daytime we acted as a tender for the Cumberland and Congress. On the 8th of March, after coming in from picket duty, we went to Fort Monroe for the mail and fresh provisions, which we got on the arrival of the mail-boat from Baltimore. We returned to Newport News about 10 o'clock. After delivering the stores belonging to the Congress and Cumberland, we went to the wharf to lie until wanted. A little after dinner, about 12:30, the quartermaster on watch called my attention to black smoke in the Elizabeth River, close to Craney Island. We let go from the wharf and ran alongside the Cumberland. The officer of the deck ordered us to run down toward Pig Point and find out what was coming down from Norfolk. It did not take us long to find out, for we had not gone over two miles when we saw what to all appearances looked like the roof of a very big barn belching forth smoke as from a chimney on fire. We were all divided in opinion as to what was coming. The boatswain's mate was the first to make out the Confederate flag, and then we all guessed it was the Merrimac come at last. When we were satisfied it was the enemy, we went to quarters and fired our 30-pounder Parrott, which was not answered. We fired again, taking deliberate aim, and were rather surprised that it was unnoticed; we fired, I think, about six shots when our recall signal was hoisted on the Cumberland. By this time the batteries at Newport News had commenced firing, the Congress had gone to quarters and opened fire; when we got close to the Cumberland she also began firing. The Merrimac kept on until abreast the Congress, when she opened fire, pouring a broadside in passing, and came right on for the Cumberland, which vessel was using her guns as fast as they could be fired. We were in rather a tight place, being between the fire of the gun-boats from Norfolk and the Patrick Henry and Jamestown from Richmond, and our own batteries on shore, the shot from which were falling all round us. However, we kept loading and firing as fast as we were able, until, seeing that the Congress had loosed her foretopsail and made signal for us to come alongside, we ran down to her, leaving the Cumberland just as the Merrimac was passing her bows. We made fast to the port side of the Congress, passing our tow-line through a scupper, and with our breastlines through a gun-port, she lying headed toward Hampton Roads. There was hardly a breath of wind, so that her topsail and jib were of no account in moving her. It took us some time to get our lines fast, owing to the horrible condition of affairs on the gun-deck, which was on fire. The cries of the wounded were terrible. The men were not all regular men-of-war's-men — I think some were soldiers; but, anyhow, the tug's crew had to get on board to make our lines fast. When everything was ready, Lieut. Smith ordered me to go ahead, with our helm, hard-a-starboard so as to get her into shoal water. When we had her headed toward the shore, the Merrimac got right astern of us and opened fire, pouring broadside after broadside, that raked her fore and aft, overthrowing several of the guns and killing a number of the crew. About this time we were in rather a bad plight; the blood was running from the Congress suppers on to our deck, like water on a wash-deck morning; the tallow-cup on top of our cylinder, and the pilot-house and billethead on the stem were shattered by shot; the pilot, Mr. Phillips, was stunned. Our Zouave figure-head, which was a fixture on top of the pilot-house, carried away by a shot on its way over the bows, disabled two of the crew of the rifle. It was about this time that the Congress grounded and the white flag was hoisted. Firing ceased and a rebel steamer was making for us. I told Lieut. Pendergrast that if he did not want me any more, I'd leave and try to escape. He told me to take care of myself, as they had surrendered. We cut our lines and backed astern, and, as soon as we got clear, commenced firing, which, I think, gave rise to the charge of the Congress firing after she had struck her colors. The Minnesota was aground in the North Channel, and had my recall signal flying. We headed for her, keeping as close to the beach on our side as possible, when about half-way, after passing all the enemy's vessels, we were struck by a shot which carried away our rudder-post and one of the blades of our propeller-wheel. Being then unable to use our rudder, and heading directly for the enemy, we stopped and backed so as to get her head right, which we did, and with our large hawser out over our port quarter, we kept her going in the right direction, until the gun-boat Whitehall came to our assistance. We lay that night alongside the Minnesota, and in the morning were towed to Fort Monroe.

I claim for the Zouave that she fired the first shot at the Merrimac, and that but for her assistance the Congress would have been captured; in evidence of which I refer to page 64 of Professor Soley's book, The blockade and the cruisers, also to the New York Herald of March 10th, 1862. I held the appointment of acting master's mate, and had been in the service from June, 1861..

Detroit, Mich., March 9th, 1884.

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